Immigration Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by Tai Pawb (housing for all) (IB 12)

IMMIGRATION BILL 2015–2016 – HOUSING MEASURES

1.1 Tai Pawb welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence on the Immigration Bill 2015-2015 as it relates to the private rented sector (PRS). Tai Pawb (housing for all) is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. The organisation’s mission is, "To promote equality and social justice in housing in Wales". It operates a membership system which is open to local authorities, registered social landlords, third (voluntary) sector organisations, other housing interests and individuals. Tai Pawb works closely with the Welsh Government and other key partners on national housing strategies and key working groups, to ensure that equality is an inherent consideration in national strategic development and implementation. The organisation also provides practical advice and assistance to its members on a range of equality and diversity issues in housing and related services.

1.2 We are aware that the current Bill applies to England only at this point, however, we note that it provides for future legislation to be made, which extends the provisions to Wales. We think it prudent to therefore consider evidence in relation to Wales at this point.

1.3 The PRS in Wales consists of ca 200,000 properties, which constitutes 14% of Welsh housing stock and is growing in size.

1.4 A number of legislative measures with relevance to the PRS have been brought in recently in Wales, with some still passing through the National Assembly for Wales. Housing (Wales) Act 2014 introduced mandatory registration and licencing for PRS landlords and agents which will commence in Autumn 2015. New homelessness prevention duties have also been introduced by the Act and commenced in April 2015, requiring councils to focus on the prevention aspects of homelessness first. Local authorities were also given new rights to use suitable PRS accommodation to discharge their homelessness duty.

1.5 The Renting Homes (Wales) Bill introduces new tenancy law for all tenants, including those in PRS with two basic types of tenancy contracts – standard periodic contract (for those in PRS; expected to be rolled out in 2017) and secure contract. The Bill, amongst others, changes the law in relation to joint tenancies, offers greater protection for victims of harassment and domestic abuse and removes Ground 8 for housing associations (mandatory ground for possession for rent arrears).

1.6 This means that Welsh private landlords are facing significant changes to property management, tenancy law and regulation from 2015-2018. Majority of landlords in Wales are small businesses with one or two properties. Introduction of Right to Rent checks in addition to the above changes raises concerns in relation to appropriate resourcing for capacity building and awareness raising.

1.7 This raft of Welsh legislation related to PRS also means that the circumstances of Welsh PRS landlords and tenants are going to be significantly different than those in England. We would strongly suggest that any decisions or future possible orders made in relation to Wales are therefore mindful of the above dates and based on appropriate and separate evaluation carried out in Wales, post commencement of the above Welsh measures.

1.8 Whilst we agree that the Immigration Bill could potentially improve standards for some tenants, there is a significant risk that these proposals could have an adverse impact on tenants and landlords.

1.9 We are concerned with the speed with which the second Immigration Bill has been brought forward, including the fact that the evaluation was only published on the 20th of October. There are other issues in relation to the evaluation. For example the tenant’s survey was only carried out with 68 people and 60 of those were students. This suggests that the results of this survey will be skewed as students are likely not only to be better educated than other sections of potential tenant population but also less likely to face discrimination (it is easier for them to present documents too).

1.10 We also note that the pilot – which did not involve criminal provisions was deemed to be a success by the immigration minister, which raises the question of why the government feels that the new provisions are necessary. We would urge the parliament to take its time to consider the evidence.

1.11 We are concerned about the risk of discrimination. Independent evaluation issues by JCWI and partners shows clear evidence of discrimination against BME applicants and tenants as well as those unable to present documents and of failure of the policy to reach the poorest parts of the PRS (these parts were not really part of the Home Office evaluation). Home office evaluation of potential discrimination is interesting in itself. For example the mystery shopping exercises showed that much more BME people were informed about fees in the Phase 1 area, but that actually more BME people were offered to register than non-BME. The problem with this evidence is that even if we compare Phase 1 area to other areas, the evaluation does not provide any information on whether the landlords subjected to mystery shopping were actually aware of Right to Rent (it is possible that they weren’t).

1.12 We note that there is also significant risk of discrimination against British Citizens who do not hold the correct documents. For example 17% of British population do not have passports. These are often people who are vulnerable, elderly people or people who are in care. We note that both NLA and RLA stated that landlords are significantly more likely to award a tenancy to people who can provide documentation quicker.

1.13 In terms of landlord awareness of the scheme and what activities are illegal, including discrimination, we are concerned about the high risk of poor awareness. We agree with previous evidence submitted by CIH who were concerned that the vast majority of landlords who have only one property will be unaware of the requirements or face difficulty in complying with them (and these landlords are in majority in Wales). A survey by website Easyroommate found that 80% of landlords were unaware of the legislation and 30% did not intend to comply. Similarly, in a JCWI survey in the pilot area, few tenants were aware of the immigration checks and only around 50% had been asked to prove their permission to be in the UK2. The Home Office own evaluation reports higher awareness levels amongst landlords – however we are not sure that it represents a true picture, with most landlords contacted to complete the online survey via industry bodies (these landlords are more likely to be aware of any requirements anyway.). This significantly increases the risk of discrimination. We also note that discrimination is actually extremely difficult to identify by tenants, unless it is overt, therefore figures from tenants will not show the true picture of what happened.

1.14 We are concerned that the legislation will lead to a big increase in homelessness presentations and in numbers of NRPF cases presented to social services. We previously highlighted to the Home Office that Right to Rent may not only cause human suffering and safeguarding issues but also increased pressures and costs for already stretched local authorities. Many of those approaching local authorities may be eligible for assistance but destitute due to complicated immigration status. Many might be eligible for homelessness and other assistance under S.17 of Children Act 1989. Recent research carried out by COMPAS [1] shows that between 2011 and 2013, the cost to 6 Welsh local authorities which provided assistance under the Children Act was ca. £620,000 pounds. There are also additional enforcement costs and the costs and implications of increased pressure of social housing with many vulnerable groups likely to be deterred from using the private rented sector. This also directly contradicts the measures in Housing (Wales) Act 2014 which allow Welsh local authorities to discharge the duty to the private rented sector. JCWI research shows that substantial numbers of people were turned away by landlords/agents. Home office evaluation did not identify significant increases in homelessness presentations however there are a few factors to consider here. Firstly – we think that the evaluation period was too short to see any real effects of the legislation. Secondly, Phase 1 did not carry criminal provisions or new eviction powers, therefore the effects of Right to Rent checks may be milder as evaluated by the pilot. Thirdly – we note that 5 out of 9 authorities did report increase in workloads and that respondents working in social services, homelessness or children’s services tended to comment on larger increases in workloads with a small number of local authority respondents feeling their no recourse to public funds (NRPF) caseload had increased as some families were now presenting themselves to social services departments as they were not able to access private rental sector accommodation. A small number out of 9 local authorities may still represent a significant percentage. Lastly – comparison of homelessness data between Phase 1 area and a control area showed an increase in BME homelessness presentations however it concludes that as there were similar trends for both EEA and non-EEA nationals this suggests that the changes are likely to be due to factors other than the Right to Rent scheme. We are not sure why similar trends for these groups would mean that homelessness was not due to Right to Rent. EEA nationals could have simply been turned away by landlords without attempts made to check their status.

1.15 We note that a freedom of information request from a member of parliament showed that only two people staff the Right to Rent helpline. Assurances would have to be made that the helpline would be resourced at a more appropriate level and provide Welsh language options for Wales.

1.16 The new eviction powers raise some concerns. There does not seem to be any provision for reasonable excuse, for example due to ill health of the tenant (who may have failed to e.g. re-apply for a visa due to ill-health) or landlord (who may have failed to carry out another check due to ill health). We also note that, it is not clear whether, if at all, tenants who have been served notice, would be able to appeal the decision and how any circumstances related to Human Rights Act or Equality Act, would be taken into consideration (if at all), especially that the decision is made by the executive out of court and is mandatory based on the status. No right of appeal against a decision which has been taken out of court anyway is disproportionate in terms of the security of tenancy and implications for tenants.

1.17 In relation to families, it is not clear to us how the legislation takes into account the position of families. A situation could arise where a spouse, partner or other family member with a valid visa or right to reside in the UK faces eviction/homelessness because a member of their household loses their right to reside or their visa becomes invalid. This situation would go counter to the policy aims of the proposals.

1.18 There is a danger that this approach could make it more difficult for non-UK citizens to find a home even if they do have proof of their permission to reside in the UK. If a landlord thinks that a potential tenant’s valid visa may expire at some point meaning the landlord would be forced into carrying out an eviction (with associated costs) they may decide to rent to another person.

1.19 We would welcome the opportunity to work with the government on any future legislation which would extend the provisions contained in the Bill to Wales. More information about potential impacts of Right to Rent checks in Wales can be found in Tai Pawb and partners’ briefing from August 2015 (pre JCWI evaluation and pre-Home Office evaluation) .

October 2015


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Prepared 27th October 2015